“To be or not to be, that is the … gazoormonplatz” That is the punchline in one my favourite Bob Newhart sketches in which a monitor is tasked with checking the theory that if a monkey is given a typewriter and an infinite amount of time the primate will type something as good as Hamlet.
I only work from home two days a week but it has become increasingly clear that this is too much for Mrs Mole. Her principal complaints are that there are too many dishes to be washed, too much milk being consumed and too much garbage being produced. I don’t know why she worries about the rubbish because, under our long-running power-sharing agreement, bin maintenance is the one area where I have complete authority. Even so, in the interests of domestic harmony, my transition to an ‘office-first’ approach to work will have to be accelerated.
‘Connect the facts with the fun’. That’s what our sales director said when I asked what he’d learned from his virtual workshop on winning new customers during a pandemic. When I asked him where he was going to find the fun so he could connect with it, he shrugged.
This ‘new normal’ has me reminiscing. Fifty years ago this month, I spent a day at my uncle’s old school printing company. As I was trying to look inconspicuous in the corner of his office, a bloke came in and said they needed a new plate-bending machine. To my ten-year-old self, the very idea of such a machine sounded exotic, intriguing and, ultimately, baffling. What, I wondered, was this plate exactly?
Am I the only person alive who suspects there’s a conspiracy to pretend that Zoom is easier to use than it really is? The young Moles keep extolling its simplicity and yet, when the link inviting me to a virtual meeting doesn’t work, they just give me a patronising shrug of their shoulders, look as if I’m making it all up, and ask if I’ve restarted the laptop.
“It’s quiet. Too quiet.” That stock phrase from the Westerns my dad binge-watched - before the term had been invented - sprang to mind when I contemplated the speed with which the coronavirus was emptying my diary. Obviously, there’s the trade shows. More than 440 of them have been cancelled or postponed globally, including Fespa, which I had pencilled in as the perfect excuse to visit Madrid in springtime and Sign UK, which I hadn’t pencilled in at all. Then there’s the meetings which metamorphosed into telephone calls which later metamorphosed into nothing at all. I’m not accusing people of panicking - pandemics are not the time for macho posturing - it’s that they are completely distracted by the uncertainty of it all.
I finally have 2020 vision. So, unfortunately, does everyone else, this being the year after 2019 and before 2021. At Mole Graphics, it’s hard to know what this year will bring. There are some certainties - the Olympics will happen in Tokyo, there will be a presidential election in America and a troublesome minority of customers will demand free reprints of jobs they signed off on only to realise later that they had made a mistake. Sometimes you want to ask: how hard is it to use the correct version of your logo? And if you have so many logos you can’t distinguish between them, maybe you don’t need so many.
Once a year, I catch up with a former colleague and current competitor to talk about life, work and the universe. We normally meet for a couple of drinks at some nondescript railway hotel that is equidistant between his company and Mole Graphics. This year we talked about many things: the ignorance of print buyers the simmering resentment of employees who smoke (by those who don’t) and an old school salesman whose annual mileage must have single-handedly increased the UK’s carbon emissions by a percentage point or two.
Ticking over. That’s the most accurate description of business at Mole Graphics right now.
Apollo 11 was, as Neil Armstrong said, one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind - and also a giant leap for technology that, years later, created the industry, wide-format printing, in which Mole Graphics operates. When I watched the documentary at the local picture palace, it struck me, for the first time, how audacious, complicated and preposterous the entire mission was.
I rarely look at social media. And when I say rarely I mean it - not like my neighbour who says he rarely watches television - “just the news and wildlife documentaries” - but is strangely familiar with every twist in Game Of Thrones. (Full disclosure: I am one of the social pariahs who have never watched a single episode.) But the other day my sales director sent me a copy of a tweet from @AdWeak that made me laugh: “BREAKING: Client Informs Agency She Really Appreciates All The Hard Work That Went Into The Ideas She Is About To Kill.”
The best advice I ever received? “Never forget that it can be hard to distinguish between a rising market and a genius.” You’ve probably never heard of the man who told me that: a New Zealander called Sir John Buchanan (though he never insisted on the title) who was finance director of BP in its heyday.
I once vowed that the word ‘Brexit’ would never darken this column, but with a sort of final decision - or final indecision - looming, I’m going to do what politicians do all the time and break a promise.
Someone told me recently that Millennials approach finding a job in the same way they search for a date on Tinder. As my social media expertise only extends as far as Instagram, I asked him to explain.